The Politics of 'O-P-M'

John McCain injected a heavy dose of populism into his campaign this week, launching an ad in which he tells voters that their economic security has been "put at risk by the greed of Wall Street."

"That's unacceptable," McCain says straight to camera. "My opponent's only solution is talk and taxes. I'll reform Wall Street and fix Washington."

Watch McCain's ad: LINK

Playing off his POW background, the McCain campaign is trying to personalize the current financial crisis with the senator saying in his ad: "I've taken on tougher guys than this before."

The trouble for McCain -- as ABC's David Wright noted on the Wednesday edition of "World News with Charles Gibson" -- is that for 25 years in Congress, McCain has fashioned himself as a champion of smaller government and less regulation.

A decade ago, McCain supported legislation that broke down the firewalls between commercial and investment banks and insurance companies.

Republicans can rightly point out that Joe Biden also supported the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Financial Modernization Act of 1999.

But what separates McCain from both Biden and Obama is that as recently as March of this year, in the wake of the Bear Stearns collapse, it was McCain who was calling for further deregulation of Wall Street.

"Our financial market approach should include encouraging increased capital in financial institutions by removing regulatory, accounting and tax impediments to raising capital," said McCain in March of this year.

Sensing that McCain was beginning to run away from his record on financial deregulation, Democrats pounced on Wednesday.

"By the end of the week," Barack Obama joked in Elko, Nev., "John McCain and Phil Gramm, they're gonna be talking about how they're gonna grab those seven lobbyists, they're gonna plan to storm the Treasury Department with torches and pitchforks. Come on!"

The Obama camp was also quick to make sure that no one missed that McCain had undergone a quick reversal on the wisdom of the AIG bailout.

Appearing earlier this week on NBC's "Today," McCain said, "We cannot have the taxpayers bail out AIG or anybody else."

But by the time the Republican presidential nominee appeared Wednesday on ABC's "Good Morning America" he had changed his tune.

"I don't think anybody I know wanted to do that," said McCain, referring to the AIG bailout. "But there are literally millions of people whose retirement, whose investments, whose insurance were at risk here and they were going to have their lives destroyed."

Asked about the reversal, McCain economic adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin said that the senator "supports the particulars of the action but regrets that circumstances forced us to actually have to do it."

McCain's adviser went on to say that his assertion that AIG should be "on their own" and that no taxpayer money should be put up to help them was a statement of philosophy but left unsaid in his "truncated" answer on "Today" was McCain's belief that there may sometimes be circumstances where the repercussions of an institution's failure are so horrific that they must be bailed out.

Although McCain is now talking tough on Wall Street, it may be difficult to avoid the impression -- in the words of George F. Will -- that "when deregulation was the wave through Washington, [McCain] surfed that wave."

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